In the first Zhaojun playtest session, we followed Realm talonlord Coravan Calan during his reassignment to the Southwest. He was effectively in political exile for attempting to report corruption among his superiors, and had been shipped off to the edge of the world for his pains.
Calan took ship to An-Teng, thence down the coast through the more lightly populated regions around the Silent Crescent, and on to the Baihu islands. At the mouth of the Meiyu Sea, his ship stopped for resupply at the Huang Hei naval depot. Seeking meaning in the congested bustle of troops around the docks, his inquiries among the soldiers revealed only that the Imperial legion garrisoned there had been sent south.
Arriving at Goldenseal, Calan turned his baggage over to his aging valet Iridescent Quill and his squire Nabaro Ren, and made his way to the city’s Realm garrison. He reported to the garrison’s second in command, Bal Gevanin, in her well-appointed quarters. A rather easygoing woman for her rank, Gevanin explained that the Huang Hei legion had headed south to deal with increased barbarian incursions from the Rao tribes, but that Calan would remain in Goldenseal to help see to its defense. He was deeply disappointed to learn that he would be assigned to lead auxiliary troops—a mix of provincials and mercenaries—rather than Realm soldiers
At his new quarters in the garrison, Calan learned from a querulous Quill that Ren had gone missing—something which he had done often on the journey down, though on board ship it was of little consequence as the boy couldn’t go far. Now, though, Calan and Quill headed out into the plaza outside the garrison gates to track Ren down.
They watched Ren as he talked to merchants and peered into shops, looking for someone or something. Night had fallen when a conversation with a peddler incited the boy to bolt down a side street. Quill, an older man, lacked the stamina to pursue, so Calan followed alone. After further queries of passers-by, Ren tracked his quarry to a narrow triangular courtyard. The young woman he met there, slurping noodles from a cart, was familiar to Calan. Indeed, it was a relative of his: Coradan Teva, his brother’s daughter, who had run away from home—and her arranged marriage to a boy she loathed—to follow the uncle she idolized.
Calan spent several minutes firing angry words at the pair—at Teva for abdicating her responsibilities, and at Ren for enabling the girl’s behavior and failing to report it to his mentor. Only after the hairs began to prickle on the back of his neck did Calan realize that all around them, passers-by had withdrawn down alleyways and residents had closed their doors and windows. The noodle-seller slammed his shutters closed as a dozen thuggish fellows closed in on the three Realmfolk.
The gang and its leader, Silver Shao, confronted the three with a jovial demeanor that provided a flimsy veil for insults and threats. When their japes veered toward the toothsomeness and potential price of the two youths, Calan threatened Shao with brutal, bloody death if he didn’t call off his men. We pulled the social influence system out of the box for this one, and Calan’s dead-eyed glare was very convincing. Only the gang leader’s Intimacy toward maintaining face in front of his gang allowed him to shrug it off.
The ensuing fight scene, with Calan trying to take out his opponents quickly so he could catch up to the thugs pursuing Ren and Teva, went a lot slower than expected. We’d all playtested the system before, but that was months ago; none of us remembered the rules as well as we’d thought, so we had to keep riffling through the playtest packets to remember how things worked. In addition, Calan’s player hadn’t pre-calculated and written down his combat scores on his sheet, so he kept adding up the numbers every single time he made a roll or was attacked. We’re making sure to prep all those numbers in advance for next session, so things will go much faster. (Holden has assured me that the final character sheet will include spaces to record commonly used pools and values, including—but not limited to—such combat scores.)
I had Calan Exalt halfway through the combat. Before Exalting, he was doing well against a small gang of crummy thugs and a boss whose combat skills were nearly a match for his own, but they successfully prevented him from getting away to help the kids, and it looked like he would eventually get ground down if he couldn’t scatter the battle group. However, once Calan started burning Essence on Charms, he swiftly gained the upper hand, carving a nasty gash across Silver Shao’s face and sending the gang packing.
Once Calan was free to chase after his family, taking down the remaining thugs was trivial. Persuading Ren not to turn him in as Anathema was harder, but with some effort Calan convinced the boy to keep his secret and return quietly to the garrison… once Calan’s anima faded, at any rate. Seeing onlookers gathering at the far end of the alley, Calan pulled his cloak lower over his forehead and sought cover in an abandoned building until he could pass as a mortal.
We should have used the social influence rules to determine whether Calan could convince Ren and Teva to come with him, but it was really late and we were dead tired, and frankly I was so zoned out at that point that I forgot that the social rules were an option—our group is used to handling social stuff through pure roleplay. We’ll give the social mechanics more of a workout next time!